Remarks at the Northeastern University Commencement Ceremony in Boston, Massachusetts
Thank you very much. I must tell you, I have marched in many of these processions over the years. I don't think I ever marched in one that made me any happier than when we were coming down this line and all of you were giving me the "high five." And when we arrived here on the podium, I turned to Senator Kennedy, and I said, "Those are the people I ran for President to help. I'm glad to see them here today."
I want to say a special word of thanks to President Curry, to the faculty and staff for the honorary degree and the invitation to come. To Senator Kennedy and Senator Kerry, Congressman Frank and Congressman Meehan, to Mayor Flynn, and to my good friend Governor Dukakis, and all others who are here, but especially to the graduates and their families, I am so pleased to be here in the Boston Garden with you here today. I'm also glad to be here with someone who's spent a lot of time thinking about the graduates' future, the Secretary of Labor, Bob Reich, whose wife, Clare Dalton, is on the faculty here at Northeastern. Glad to be here.
I know it's warm, and I don't want to prolong the introductory remarks, or any of them, for that matter. But since President Curry mentioned Senator Kennedy's role in student financial aid, I can't help but note that in the last few months, of all the Members in the United States Congress, one stands out at having achieved a phenomenal amount of support from Republicans and Democrats for initiatives to make this country a better place. For out of Senator Kennedy's committee, with big votes from Republicans and Democrats, have come the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, to give people the right to have a little time off when a baby is born or a parent is sick; a bill that will require the National Institute of Health to give far greater attention than ever before to issues affecting women's health and their children's; a bill that will enable us to immunize all the children of this country against serious childhood diseases; a bill that will set national academic standards for our public schools, to deal with what the former speaker said we needed to do before you get to college; and finally, the national service and student loan bills, which will open college education to all Americans by providing loans on more generous terms and allowing them to be repaid as a percentage of your earnings, no matter how much you borrow, so you'll never go broke repaying your loans, and allowing more young people to pay them back with service to their communities. All of that came through Senator Kennedy's committee.
I want to congratulate all of you who've survived this 5-year program, and also I want to congratulate you on surviving the Boston traffic jams. That's the second greatest example of gridlock in the United States. [Laughter]
I want to say, too, that I treasure a degree from an institution that really exalts public service, not only by elected officials but by private citizens as well. This year I received more than 200 invitations to address graduating classes. But Northeastern stood out to me because I believe you are a symbol of the American dream, built on education and work and community service, blending work and learning, having partnerships with the private sector in this wonderful community of yours to build people, which is, after all, the only real product America has ever been able to depend upon.
When I was working so hard to put together this provision of student aid to make college loans available to all on lower interest rates and better repayment terms and to let more people repay their loans through community service either before or during or after college, it was students like you that I had in mind: hard-working, good people from either middle class families that could otherwise not afford a college education or from poorer families who want to work their way into a better life. You symbolize the very thing that America has always been about and that we must today get back to if we're going to revitalize this great Nation. And I'm very proud to be here with you today.
I can also tell you that I was deeply impressed by Doug Luffborough, and if I could sing like him I wouldn't be up here today as President. I read an article about Doug and his mother and his family and his trials in working his way through college before I came here. In the article he said he planned to invite himself and his mother to the White House. [Laughter] Well, I'm going to beat him to the punch. I'd like for Doug and his mother to come to the White House.
If any man in America knows what having a good, hard-working, strong, loving, and disciplining mother can mean, I certainly do. I know it can make all the difference in the world, as it did for Doug and as it has for me. I think it would be appropriate just sort of as a symbol of all the parents who are here if Doug's mother, Mrs. Elsa Luffborough Mensah, would stand up. I think she's over there. Stand up! Give her a hand. See her up there in the white dress? [Applause]
I must tell you, ma'am, there are a lot of people of great and famous achievement who will never know the pride you must have felt when your son stood up here earlier today. I thought it was unbelievable, and I appreciate what you did.
To all of you graduates here at Northeastern, because this is the largest co-op school in the Nation, you are a breed apart. By having the chance to work for 2 years in your field as you have earned your degree, you have experienced a world that many others of your counterparts all across America only anticipate when they walk up and get their degree. You embody the growing unity in this country between work and learning, based on the clear understanding that the average American must now change work eight times in a lifetime and what you earn depends upon what you can learn. Still, even with the jump your co-op education in this fine place has given you, some of you must be wondering whether you'll be able to find the right job or any job.
I came here to tell you something very simple and straightforward: You have done your part, and you deserve the opportunity to have that job and to make a better life for yourself.
For years and years, the challenges of the global economy and our inadequate responses to them have put unbelievable pressure on middle class families and middle class values. Most people have worked harder for less and paid more for education, for health care, for housing. For most of the 1980's, those with less than 2 years of post-high school education actually saw their incomes drop as they worked longer and longer work weeks. And in the last couple of years, even college graduates have begun to have a difficult time finding good jobs with growing incomes.
Still, we know what works. We know that in this global economy, a good education works. We know that investment in new technology works. We know that when business and workers and Government are cooperating for high productivity, that works. We know that grass roots efforts to build strong and safe communities and to give every person a chance work.
A lot of Americans have worked on that, but we have not done it as a nation. For more than a dozen years we have spent too much time from the top down having our leaders just tell us what we want to hear, that taxes are bad and somebody else's spending is bad, but spending on you is good. And so we've seen the debt go from $1 trillion to $4 trillion, our deficit go from $74 billion to $300 billion a year. And unbelievably, our investment at the national level in the things that make us a rich country has not even kept up with inflation: investment in education, in environmental cleanup, in the new technologies that will permit us to convert from a defense-based to a domestic high-tech economy. We have not done what we ought to have done there. We have underinvested and still seen much of our future eroded by a massive debt.
We have come to a time, my fellow Americans, when we have to bring to our public life as a nation the same brutal honesty that Doug's mother brought to him when she refused to let his difficult circumstances be an excuse not to succeed. We have to take as a people the same kind of advice your student speaker gave to you. Let's don't say, "I could have. I should have. I would have." Let's say, "We can. We will." And let's get about doing it.
We are beginning to move this country, taking down the obstacles to progress and prosperity, putting our economic house in order, moving toward providing a national plan to provide affordable, quality health care to all of America's families and children, preparing ourselves to compete in the global economy. We have a long road to travel, but we see some hopeful signs.
Because of the progress of the economic plan that I have presented to the Congress to bring down our deficit and increase investment in our people, interest rates have dropped to a 20-year low. That means that when you bring down the deficit and bring down interest rates, you free up money to be invested in productive things. What do lower interest rates mean? They mean lower home mortgages. They mean lower business loans. They mean lower consumer loans and car loans. They mean money that can grow the economy and create jobs. And it also means the Government doesn't have to spend so much of your tax money paying interest on the debt and can pay more financing college loans and an economic future that is worthy of the effort you have made to get here to this place today.
In the first 4 months of this administration, over three-quarters of a million jobs were added to this economy. But we have to finish the job. The United States Senate is now coming to grips with the economic plan. It brings down our national deficit $500 billion over 5 years. And for every $10 we cut that deficit, $5 comes from spending cuts, $3.75 comes from the wealthiest Americans whose taxes were reduced in the 1980's, and $1.25 comes from the middle class. Two-thirds of the tax burden comes from people with incomes above $200,000 because they can best afford to pay.
Now, there are some lobbyists and some legislators who don't like the plan, and they say things that are popular, not the kind of things that your parents told you when you had to kind of take a deep breath and go on but popular. They say, "More cuts, less taxes," but no details. No details. Then when you look at the details, you find that the details hurt the middle class, the working poor, the vulnerable elderly, do less to create jobs and ensure our world economic leadership.
So I say to you, we ought to ask of every American, what is your real alternative, not rhetoric, not chants that sound good, but give the American people as a whole the same sort of truth that every one of your families gave you or you wouldn't be here today. That's what you're entitled to, and that's what I'm determined to give you as President of the United States.
My job is to make your future worthy of the efforts that brought you here today, to try to help to create a national interest that triumphs over anybody's special interests. You have done your part. It is now time for the leadership of this country to do ours.
I ask you only to remember here the lessons you have learned here and the lessons which have already been repeated. Nobody can create for you an opportunity you are not capable of seizing. If you don't continue to learn throughout a lifetime, you can still be left behind. And nobody in this country can fully succeed until more of this country succeeds. We do not walk alone. We walk as families, as communities, as neighborhoods, and as a nation, and we had better start acting like it. We are going up or down together, and we need to go forward.
In 1960, in November, President Kennedy delivered the last speech of his Presidential campaign here in the Boston Garden. He talked of, I quote, "the contest between the comfortable and the concerned, between those who believe we should rest and lie at anchor and drift and those who want to move this country forward." That contest is not over, and it never will be. But at each critical juncture in our Nation's history, whether we go forward will depend upon whether a new generation of Americans are willing to take up that challenge laid down 33 years ago by President Kennedy.
One of the most distinguished citizens Massachusetts ever produced was Oliver Wendell Holmes. He joined the Massachusetts infantry during the Civil War, and he lived to have a conversation with President Franklin Roosevelt 60 years later. Holmes said that a person must be involved in the action and passion of his time for fear of being judged not to have lived. Well, my fellow Americans, the action and passion of your time is to restore the American dream and to make it real for everyone who is willing to do what you have done in coming here today.
When I was in college—and I just celebrated my 25th reunion—I had a remarkable teacher who said that the most important idea in our culture was the idea that the future could be better than the present and that each of us has a personal moral responsibility to make it so.
And I tell you, when I walked down that aisle today and I saw your enthusiasm, your energy, your intelligence, your love for life, your excitement today, I thought to myself, you deserve that. You deserve that. But only you can provide it. And so I say to you today, let us all, from the President to the students, to the parents, to every person who works in this great land, resolve to do our part to make sure that we have exercised our personal moral responsibility to make your future better than the present.
God bless you, and good luck.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:55 a.m. in the Boston Garden. In his remarks, he referred to John A. Curry, president of the university, and Douglas Luffborough III, student commencement speaker.
William J. Clinton, Remarks at the Northeastern University Commencement Ceremony in Boston, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/220556